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2,100 sandwiches: Summer Feeding Program provides a needed service

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By Brian Garner

During the months while school is out, a summer feeding program ensures that 2,100 kids daily across Chester County get a nutritious meal, five days a week. That's 10,500 meals a week. Now the Summer Feeding Program needs help and at their June meeting, they turned to Chester County Council.
Peggy Johnson with the summer feeding program sponsored by the City of Chester, briefed council on the program. She said the program was established to ensure that children continue to receive the same kind of nutritional meals in the summer that they get during the school year. Many of the kids participating in the summer feeding program receive free or reduced lunch during the year in school. The Summer Feeding Program is part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program.
“The government wants to ensure these kids get at least one nutritional meal during the summer. Free meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines are provided to all children under age 18. They are served at different food locations. We serve at churches, rec buildings and we do a few homes, but the state would like us to stop serving in the homes,” said Johnson. The feeding program provides meals Monday through Friday during the months school is out for summer.
Chester County has sponsored the program for many years, providing the meal service to the City of Chester and Chester County, Johnson said, but in January 2013, the county was not sure     they could continue the program, following the retirement of the director.
“Looking at the needs of our community, the City of Chester applied and was approved for sponsorship  in July of 2013. We are seeking funds to help feed these kids when school is out     for the summer. The Summer Feeding Program is requesting your support for this program that makes such a meaningful difference in the lives of our youth,” she said.
Not only does the Summer Feeding Program provide a meal for the kids, Johnson pointed out,     but there are other benefits. “(By not having to feed the kids one meal a day,) parents can stretch their budgets and it also provides summer employment for college students and the school food service professionals  who aren't working during the summer. It's a needed program in our area,” she said.
Johnson added the county is where the most need for this program exists.
Johnson said the program provides meals for about 2,100 children per day at sites in Chester, Great Falls, Fort Lawn and Richburg.
Johnson said the state reimburses $3.54 per meal. The program reports the number of meals they have served, and then the state reimburses per meal. But the cost of food, salaries, office supplies and mileage expense comes out of that amount. The program started June 9 and is already over budget, Johnson reported.
    One of the major costs has been adding a second truck for food deliveries, to reach the neighborhoods in certain parts of the county.
    Johnson explained the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) mandates the food delivered to the sites in the county be kept to certain temperature levels and delivered within a certain amount of time.
    “I had no choice, if I wanted to reach those kids in those neighborhoods, than to get a second truck,” she said.
Johnson said she receives calls from places in the county not currently being served by the feeding program, such as Mitford and Youngstown, every day, asking for the program to be expanded to their areas.
Chester County Council will determine by their next meeting to what extent they can help support the program.